Rewaxing a waxed jacket, or the story of “Aulde Reekie”

In the world of tech fabrics, waxed cotton is the old curmudgeon sitting in the corner eyeing up the newcomers with a sceptical look of disdain. Waxed cotton has been around for ages, from the early use of improving the wind-retaining use as sails, to water-repellent outerwear. As these things go, it’s pretty environmentally friendly as well, there are no microplastics being shed, no fluoro-chemicals to be retained in nature and … it’s pretty easy to reproof as well, when the repellency wears off.

My only problem is that a freshly waxed jacket looks nowhere as attractive as a really worn one! This means it boils down to a question of looks over functionality, only solved by having two jackets, where one is waxed to weather storms, the other really worn out and looking great. Not a huge problem, as secondhand waxed jackets such as Barbours, are available in decent condition for a song through the usual secondhand sources.

This isn't the actual Barbour Border in question, but the patina and wear are very similar to mine.

This isn’t the actual Barbour Border in question, but the patina and wear are very similar to mine.

A Barbour Border with extreme patina

This article though is about a specific one I bought because it looked pretty blinding. A Barbour Border, the longer and more utilitarian version, popular among farmers and outdoorsy folks. This one looked like it had been used daily for years, being dragged through hedges every which way. Top grade patina, as a garmologist would describe it. It even included the furry lining (which is made of acrylic fibres, would be nice to have an actual wool fleece one. Maybe a future easy project?).

Upon arrival at Garms HQ it immediately became apparent though that there was an issue that would be hard to ignore. It absolutely flipping reeked! Apart from beached whales, there is sadly little that can smell as bad as a really ripe old waxed jacket. It was so bad that I couldn’t even unwrap it inside. Now there are a lot of tips floating around regarding how to remove “the odour le vintage” from old clothes, and most of it as total rubbish. Maybe it helps to air for a day or two, hanging in the sun, or popping it in the freezer, but only for the weakest of smells. If it’s a proper reeky old piece there is only one thing that helps: 40 degrees in the washing machine with plenty of detergents. You could add vinegar, but to be honest I don’t think it helps.

 

Henceforth known as “Aulde Reekie”

This jacket needed two or three proper washes. No express or wool programme, the proper 40-degree standard cotton wash. It came out the wash with the reek removed. It also came out of the wash with something else removed: The wax. And most of the patina. And all the cuts and flaws were also revealed. So, to be generous, at least only a partial success then, and before being washed I was ready to kill it with fire.

Wax can be replaced though, so the big experiment here was to see if I could rewax it and possibly bring back that delightful patina. The rewaxing process can be pretty daunting the first time, but it’s pretty simple really and doesn’t require a huge investment in tools or workspace. There are various brands of wax available, Barbour and Otter are pretty equivalent in being applied as fluids, but Fjällraven has a different type applied as a heated bar, giving a more lightweight waxing.

Let’s give it a fresh wax!

When doing jobs like this I always find it helps to think through what is going to be achieved and how it actually works. For this job, it’s about getting an even and sensible amount of wax over the surfaces, and ensuring wax gets into the folds and seams. A good starting point for success is to keep the wax at the proper temperature to keep it flowing well. It also means care should be taken in distributing the wax and using gentle, circular movements to ensure it is applied from all angles to make sure it’s evenly distributed.

One problem that can quickly become obvious is that the wax will harden almost immediately it is applied to the fabric. It will help if the ambient temperature is higher, but otherwise, this just means there will be work to do with a hairdryer after the coat is suitably covered in wax. Using a lint-free rag, heat and wipe, redistributing the wax and removing the excess, aiming for a uniform surface look.

The problem with using a hairdryer is that you really need either three hands, a helper, or a way to really pin the jacket in place, as trying to use both the heat and the rag at the same time can be quite infuriating. One option would be to use a fan blowing hot air, thus allowing you to work with both hands.

The amount of wax left on the jacket will also determine the finish of the final result. Cover the fabric with a liberal coating and it’ll be quite shiny and longer-lasting. For a more suave and sophisticated city slicker matt look, just allow the wax that has penetrated the fabric to remain and remove most of the rest.

Now, “Aulde Reekie” was roughly speaking as denuded of wax as it could possibly be, so it took a fair amount of wax to cover it. In fact, a whole tin of the Barbour-branded thornproof dressing. How much that was wiped off under the post-application process is hard to say, the rag was pretty soaked, but I think I can safely say that for a jacket that hasn’t been “zeroed” like this one, the amount of wax necessary to replenish the repellency will certainly be a lot less.

While doing a rewax it’s wise to prepare the work surface. I cover it with newspaper, taped together to avoid them shiting or gaping, and mostly wear rubber gloves while working, as it’s not easy to wash the wax off. This also goes for the details of the jacket that you don’t want to be waxed, such as the corduroy collar. Care taken will be massively repaid in later cleanup work avoided.

In summary, how did rewaxing “Aulde Reekie” work out?

Well, I got rid of the smell, but the wash likely shrunk it a little, so a partial success. Removing the wax meant the fabric was thirsty for lots of fresh wax, so it really lapped it up and it took more than I expected to cover it fully. The patina though, the real point of this jacket, was sadly lost in the process and it now looks more like a new jacket than one with masses of character. Hence, the moral of the story must be that if you’re after a waxed jacket with a properly aged look, find one that doesn’t smell really bad! And if you plan to keep it a long time, try rewaxing it.

15 Comments

  • George 19/01/2020 at 13:21

    Ah the memory of waxing the trusty Barbours prior to the fishing season, nowadays they go to the factory in South Shields for reproof. Always a good service.

    Reply
    • nick 19/01/2020 at 14:05

      Indeed, it doesn’t the earth to have it done profesionally!

      Reply
  • Kevin 19/01/2020 at 20:36

    Hi Nick,
    Can you add to the post once the border’s been rained on? I’d love to know if the re-waxing takes post wash. I have a cousin of auld reekie who is shunned to the outdoor balcony. I found a fellow in New England who removes Barbour liners, cleans them and sews them back in. I had him give my coat a go and it cut the pungency by about half, but still, the odor arrives before the coat does. I’ve avoided washing it for fear of a re-waxing being less effective post detergent/etc. If your approach works, mines in for the wash of its life:)

    Reply
    • nick 20/01/2020 at 09:44

      Hi Kevin, I’ll do a good shower test on it as soon as I can, and add it to the post! Reekie sends his regards to his cousin and would like mentioned that life without reeking is much more social and pleasant! 🙂

      Reply
  • James 20/01/2020 at 00:47

    From my experience of owning new and vintage Barbour jackets, the thornproof dressing used on the older jackets has a more waxy consistency which creates better character and patina over time IMO. It also has a strong, distinctive smell. The newer thornproof dressing has almost no smell at all and has a more matte finish that doesn’t give you those nice creases and patina. Not sure when they changed the formula but I prefer the look of older jackets for that reason.

    Reply
    • nick 20/01/2020 at 09:43

      Thanks, James, this makes a lot of sense. I may try using Otter wax next time and see how that looks. I do have a jacket from the collaboration with Norton & Sons from around 5 years ago. As I recall, this was said to be waxed using a soy-based wax (my memory may be wrong). It smells quite distinctly different from regular wax, and it still carries the smell with it. Not entirely unpleasant, but not really very pleasant either!

      Reply
  • Lizzie Long 20/01/2020 at 09:07

    Nice job! I’ve often wondered about washing mine, as you did, rather than just wiping it down as Barbour tell you to do. Not sure I want to risk shrinking it though….

    Reply
    • nick 20/01/2020 at 09:37

      I think going to 30 degrees rather than 40 will eliminate shrinking. I may have been a little hasty and desperate to de-reek the flipping thing! 🙂

      Reply
  • Paul Boileau 20/01/2020 at 09:17

    It certainly helps if you re-wax in the Summer as you don’t need to heat the wax as much, if at all. Barbour jackets aren’t warm so the lining is useful. I like the Solway zipper although the second hand prices can be crazy!

    Reply
    • nick 20/01/2020 at 09:36

      Indeed, any extra warmth will help. A well-directed electric fan is a huge help, freeing up a hand and reducing annoyance. Barbour do have a few distinctive and classic designs, the Solway Zipper being one. The Longshoreman another. I think I might do an article on collectable Barbours, as there are quite a few notable jackets apart from “the usual suspects”!

      Reply
      • Paul Boileau 20/01/2020 at 10:07

        Yes, that would be interesting. The Longshoreman prices are even crazier than the Solway! I have always wanted to try the made-to-measure wax jackets from Claymore but as I have 3 Barbours already this seems like overkill…

        Reply
        • nick 21/01/2020 at 08:05

          The Longshoreman tends to bring in top money, indeed. Yet compared to the Tokito jackets from 8-9 years back, they are still reasonable. I’ve seen even quite ropey versions of the most popular Tokitos having an asking price of around a thousand pounds, with slight damages and missing the hood!

          Reply
  • Neil Deaville 28/01/2020 at 10:30

    Great article – I have a ‘barn find’ Belstaff trialmaster professional that I intend to restore. Has anyone here used Belstaff’s complimentary repair and rewaxing service?

    Reply
  • James Ross 20/07/2020 at 23:39

    I rewaxed my Barbour using Otter Wax because it is made with beeswax and,”1oo% natural” and available locally (Nokomis Shoe,Minneapolis ,Mn.) It comes as a small cake and after rubbing it on, I hung it in direct sunlight on both sides until the fabric was hot to the touch.It cooled to a dry finish with a nice patina.

    Reply
  • Alex Robinson 31/07/2020 at 15:18

    I use a hairdryer, but also do the re-waxing on an ironing board covered in a taped up bin bag (to stop the ironing board becoming covered in wax). Using the ironing board means that the jacket stays in place and you apply the wax as if you were ironing. No need to heat up the wax either, as the hairdryer turns it to liquid and stops caking in the creases.

    Reply

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